Archive for October, 2018

Some assignments prove more enjoyable than others. And one such was Mysore Paints and Varnishes — India’s sole supplier of indelible election ink since 1962. Today, the PSU helps the smooth functioning of democracy in more than 30 countries by supplying the same globally.

A tour of its premises proved absolutely delightful and meeting a long time source Mysore Paints GM C Harakumar. During the chaotic days of demonetisation, when the government realised that the same set of people were standing in line to deposit money for others, funelling in a steady stream of black money — some brilliant brain (sarcastic of course) decided they’d paint bank account holders with indelible ink to prevent revisits by depositors of demonetised currency notes.

Banks stunned by everyday bringing with it a new set of dozen circulars – took this in their stride and placed large orders for indelible ink with Mysore Paints; sources put it at nearly 2 million phials. Bank officials turned to painting everyone’s fingernails with ink only to find the government reversing its stand in three days; making their decision to buy ink irrelevant. Left with stocks of now unusable indelible ink, banks had to write off their purchase as losses even as Mysore Paints made a windfall in profit.

And election after election, of course sees Indians proudly taking to social media with selfies of their inked finger — courtesy Mysore Paints and Varnishes. I got to see the legendery phials of indelible ink. But wasn’t allowed photographs. The forumla of the ink is a secret guarded and passed on for decades from one government official to another.

I met with Mysore Paints current MD Chandrashekhar Doddamani, who allowed me to tour the premises. The campus was set up in 1937 by the then Maharaja of Mysore province Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar to provide occupation to locals.

Started as Mysore Lac & Paint Works, the unit’s first product was lac, sourced from the teeming forests near Mysuru and Nagerhole. Workers back then would bring lac — an insect resin found on host trees like flame-of-the-forest (Dhak trees), Jujube trees, Kusum trees — from the forests to the factory for processing. Red lac used as sealing wax would be used to seal the factory premises every night — and also used to guard ballet boxes in the days of paper voting or by India Post for the government’s top secrets.

But with the passage of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, by Indira Gandhi, the company lost its access to the nearby forests. With forest lac struck off its lists as a product, Mysore Lac & Paint Works renamed itself as Mysore Paints and Varnish.

I loved the red brick buildings on the premises – hailings from the 1930s and in good condition. Like most heritage buildings, the walls are not cemented but held in place with a mixture of lime, clay, egg white and jaggery.

Another thing that interested me was many of the machines were from the pre-Independence era and still in working condition. Was particularly taken up with a paste mixer that bore the legend `Torrance & Sons Ltd, Bitton Bristol.’ I read up on the history of the British company (in existence since 1677) and the firm after many mergers continues to produce engineering machinery. Felt to musing how the 1-tonne weighing paste grinder must have been shipped in – the voyage of 4,700 miles taking a month or more — all thanks to the far-sighted initiatives of Chamraja Wodeyar; whose busts and paintings fill up every nook and cranny.

Read Full Post »

In Memory: First Posted on August 1, 2018

As DMK chief M Karunanidhi is in hospital, I’d like to remember the young idealist he once was. Long before he had a large and ever growing family with ever growing business interests, he was an idealist. And his views on social inequalities and need for an inclusive society can be seen in the dialogues of many films like Parasakthi. As a mature politician he was an opportunist and could when it suited him turn a blind eye to the communal or castiest leanings of his party members or alliance parties.
At his heart, however, he never believed in the notion of caste and was the most liberal of fathers– his children, neices and nephews have married into a wide spectrum of castes. And not once in his public speeches has he ever espoused any right-wing idea of racial superiority- he’s always stood for the idea that all men are born equal.

Now a little explanation about the picture. The person giving the speech is my great-grandfather MLA N Devadasan – the venue: the Tirunelveli Bar Association and the purpose: to hear the views of the then fiery young man Karunanidhi.

Now, there is a poignancy to this picture — as my grandfather N Devadasan was a Pariyar from the Dalit community. He was a first generation learner, who went onto get gold medals while pursuing his masters in political science from Madras University. He went onto pursue law and eventually became a public prosecutor. And at a time when the majority of the lawyers at the Tirunelveli Bar Association were upper-caste Hindus, he’d earned everyone’s goodwill and respect that he a Christian Dalit kept repeatedly getting voted to the post of president at the bar. And in his capacity as a bar association president and in his capacity as a DK member he was welcoming Karunanidhi to give his speech.

And I know I might face some flak from my family for putting it out there that we have Dalit roots. But I think not telling the truth about my great-grandfather would be undermining his achievements. Imagine in caste-conscious violent Tirunelveli to battle prejudice every day; and not let that undermine your worth- but go onto reach your maximum potential in terms of education, career growth and social empacipation.

It is to my regret that I never learnt about my Dalit origins till I turned 30. I always knew about the other castes my ancestors hailed from — Reddys, Namboodaris, Nadars, Devars– as a child. But this important nugget to who I was – was wiped out in my urban middle-class upbringing. How does one measure how far you’ve progressed, if you’ve not taken note of your origin? My great-grandfather married Annamuthu patti from the sambhavar community, also classified as SC. And in the 7th century, the sambhavarayars were petty kings of ancient Thondaimandalam in TN; whom conquering armies from North made captives and slaves. Which is why even today in Tamil there is a proverb: “நீ என்ன பெரிய சாம்பவனா ??” (Meaning: You are getting too big for your boots. Do you think you are a sambhavan (king)?). Being ashamed of one’s origins I feel comes from ignorance and a lack of belief in the idea – that all men are equal.

Now my great grandfather despite being a Dalit, saw to it that’s his kids’ school certificates said OC not SC. What it means is – I as an OC candidate competed with FC category and had no benefits from reservation in schooling or college. This was because of his belief that reservation should benefit the deserving and poorest members of his community. To that end he also built a hostel for Dalit students in Tirunelveli. Back in those days — hotels, hostels and even PGs had signboards “Brahmins only” (reminiscent of “Indians and dogs not allowed” or “no Jews or dogs” – a signage that symbolised how everyone practised bigotry from whatever stature of life they could.)

Knowledge of my great-grandfather’s past helped me solve the riddle of why Periyar was more keen on abolition of caste than driving the Brits out. It was the Brits with their desire for a clerical and subservient set of people to help expand their colonial interests– who opened the doorways of education for many oppressed people. And Karunanidhi knew all of this and the need for social equality. His speech went spectacularly well; his eloquence, his erudition, his passion ensured him thundering applause. After the speech, he came to my great-grandfather’s house for dinner. He relished the non-vegetarian feast spread out for him and then discussed literature till the wee hours of the morning. My great-grandfather felt back then itself — that the flawed yet charismatic Karunanidhi had the seeds of greatness in him and would go places! #karunanidhi#mk #mkarunanidhi #DMK #Dalitfreedom#dalitempacipation

DMK_MLA_N Devadasan


Read Full Post »